Jeremy McClain isn’t one to stop short of crossing the finish line.
As the director of athletics at Delta State University for five-plus years, McClain developed a plan to increase student-athlete services and increased donations to the school’s athletic department. More recently, in the same position at Troy University, he spearheaded the improvement of facilities and fan experience. Troy set attendance records in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, softball and soccer during his tenure, too.
Now a new challenge awaits McClain, and it will come at a place he’s no stranger to. McClain, the Deputy Director of Athletics at Southern Miss from 2013-15, was introduced Monday evening as the school’s new athletics director. The Houlka, MS native replaces Jon Gilbert, who left for the same position at East Carolina in December, and Jeff Mitchell, who served on an interim basis following Gilbert’s departure.
Southern Miss President Rodney Bennett was a part of seven listing sessions in which potential candidates and their preferred characteristics were discussed.
“If you just listed them on a sheet of paper and worked down that paper with a check mark, it just spoke to Jeremy McClain,” Bennett said on Monday.
At that point, Bennett questioned whether McClain would leave Troy to come back to Hattiesburg, but that didn’t hinder the pursuit.
“This old university president still has a few tricks up his sleeve,” Bennett joked. “I’m gonna go to bat for what I need to make sure USM continues on this very important trajectory we roam. That’s when I reached out to Jeremy, and I’m telling you, I laid it on thick. It was a full-court press, and I had to do what I had to do to make sure I got ‘yes’ and got across the finish line.”
“At the end of the day, he knew how special Southern Miss was to me,” McClain added. “Did he [Bennett] lay it on thick? There’s probably some truth to that, but really it was just a discussion about where we’re at as an athletic department and what he wanted moving forward.”
McClain becomes Southern Miss’ third athletics director hire in the last two-plus years, but he plans on bringing newfound stability to the high-ranking position.
“I’m not a guy who’s out looking for a job,” he said. “I wasn’t out looking for this job. Things lined up, and I got a phone call. But if I’m gonna come to a place, I’m gonna be committed to it. What I’m gonna do here is be committed to being here long-term. There’s nothing I think is worse than walking away from something when you haven’t got to the finish line and completed what you want to complete. What I can say to you today is my plan is to get us to the finish line on the things we’re trying to do. That’s gonna take a while, so I plan on being here for a while.”
The plan is for McClain to officially get started no later than July 1. He and Bennett are targeting mid-May for a start date. In the meantime, McClain says he’s had phone conversations with interim AD Jeff Mitchell and deputy AD Brian Morrison.
“I’m trying to get a sense of what are the front burner issues,” McClain said. “I do want to evaluate and listen to what’s happening, but honestly I don’t think Dr. Bennett just hired me to listen. We’ll have some things we’ll prioritize and try to get knocked out. I’m not comfortable today saying this, this and this, but I do have a sense of what’s gonna be really important to us to get to the finish line. We’ll very quickly start our path to get those things done.”